Portland kept Nicolas Batum -- at a big price -- while the Timberwolves regrouped.
The Timberwolves' tireless, seemingly timeless pursuit of restricted free agent Nicolas Batum finally did end on Wednesday, when Portland officially matched the rich offer sheet made to the young, promising small forward.
Inevitably, a matter that stretched on through the opening week of the NBA's free-agent signing period reached the conclusion Trail Blazers General Manager Neil Olshey always promised it would.
"The decision was made a long time ago," Olshey told reporters gathered at Las Vegas summer league. "We were never not going to have Nicolas back."
So after their overtures to strike a trade that would have brought Batum to Minnesota failed and Portland matched the offer made on Sunday, the Wolves now turn their free-agent attention elsewhere with the $14 million-plus they cleared in salary-cap space to make room for Batum's four-year offer.
That offer is believed to be worth $45 million after the NBA, according to Olshey, voided some of its bonus clauses.
The Wolves maintained conversations with agents for other players while they danced with Batum's agent and the Blazers for days.
Their wish list now includes Houston unrestricted free agent Courtney Lee, Los Angeles Lakers unrestricted free-agent power forward Jordan Hill, Boston restricted free agent Greg Stiemsma, their own unrestricted free agent Anthony Tolliver and possibly unrestricted free agent Ronnie Brewer if they can't sign Lee or unrestricted free agent Carl Landry if they can't sign Hill.
A team in need of backup help at power forward and center, the Wolves also could put in a waiver claim on Orono's own Jon Leuer, a second-year power forward whom Houston waived on Wednesday. They also have been discussing a trade that would send Wayne Ellington to Memphis for forward Dante Cunningham, but that hasn't yet been finalized.
The players the Wolves might have missed out while they focused on Batum: Houston star forward Luis Scola, who unexpectedly was on the amnesty waiver wire while the Wolves cap space was tied up in the offer sheet, and Memphis guard O.J. Mayo, in whom the Wolves had some, but limited, interest. Phoenix claimed Scola, and Mayo signed with Dallas.
Wolves president of basketball operations David Kahn in a statement said the Wolves are "disappointed" that Batum won't play for them but were "prepared for the possibility of this outcome." He also said the team is well-positioned to make additional roster moves with the salary-cap space it has cleared.
The Wolves failed to obtain a player they targeted because he would have been, according to coach Rick Adelman, "a perfect fit" at a small-forward spot where former No. 4 overall pick Wes Johnson has struggled and where former No. 2 pick Derrick Williams has yet to prove he's suited to play.
Batum would have given the Wolves a 23-year-old who can defend as many as three positions and shoot the three-pointer. They also envisioned him as the perfect athletic complement to Ricky Rubio's open-court game.
Olshey said the Blazers never came close to letting Batum go, even though Batum's agent orchestrated a public-relations campaign that suggested his client wanted a fresh start in Minnesota with Rubio, Adelman and Kevin Love and didn't want to return to Portland.
Batum flew from France to Portland on Wednesday. He'll undergo a physical examination on Thursday and hold a Friday news conference there in which he undoubtedly will express his pleasure about remaining a Blazer.
"His agent did what he needed to do, which was get the possible deal for his client," Olshey said. "Nicolas got his deal, we got our player back and we move on."
The Wolves lost Batum, but they forced a division rival to pay a player whom Olshey calls one of the Blazers' two foundation pieces -- forward LaMarcus Aldridge is the other -- in the neighborhood of $11 million a year for the next four years.
"It doesn't matter, it really doesn't matter," Olshey told reporters, referring to Batum's pricetag. "Let us worry about the money. You guys write about the players and the team and how well or how poorly we play and how guys are developing. We'll worry about how we manage our cap and how guys get paid. Guys' values are based on what they bring to the team, and I can assure you Nicolas will absolutely live up to this contract."
Now that the Wolves missed out on Nicolas Batum, here are their possible targets:
• Courtney Lee, SG/SF, Houston
• Jordan Hill, PF/C, L.A. Lakers
• Greg Stiemsma, C, Boston
• Also, Anthony Tolliver, Ronnie Brewer, Carl Landry.
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